You hear it constantly. Many children are missing out on the touch, smell, and the taste of real interactions because they can barely pry their hands and eyes away from their gadgets. When they miss out on making real connections, experts have pointed out it can lead to kids having a harder time understanding the increasingly complex world around us. In other words, they are in danger of lacking empathy.
You've read articles (including on this website) that provide parenting tips to guide our kids how to care for life and put themselves in other people's shoes. So here's my tip that I think you and the kids will enjoy: discover wildlife together, starting today, March 3, which celebrates World Wildlife Day.
"Wildlife" can easily mean sitting out in the garden or the park. You'll be surprised how children already learn a lot about the basic ecology of the neighborhood bees and butterflies. He will care more for his environment and what lives in it. And when he begins to care about the possibility of losing it, he will be galvanized to take action on what he can do to take care of it.
Here’s a bonus motivation for Filipino moms and dads: we can tell our kids that we have more reason than most to join in on all the fun of celebrating wildlife because we are a country that lives and breathes diversity, both on land and in water. With our 7,000 plus islands, we are not only multi-faceted regarding culture, but we are also known around the world for being the richest in marine life biodiversity and can boast of the most concentration of unique mammal species on the planet -- right here on the islands of Luzon alone!
So, what to do? Where do we go to bring the kids to provide them with the much-needed wildlife encounters especially when you live in a city? Visit a farm Here you can learn about gathering food, growing them, and caring for the land and the animals all in one stop. Paradizoo in Mendez, Cavite in Tagaytay is a farm that is both garden sanctuary and zoo. You can learn about plants and agriculture while your kids can interact with all kinds of farm animals. Or spend a day with a farming town's resident who is passionate about the place and the practices and has a desire to talk extensively to you and your family about it.
Go to the beach Living in the Philippines means at least one trip to the beach, summer or not (consider it our good fortune). Bring your snorkel masks and check out the marine wildlife that abounds in the waters of Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro, Marinduque—pretty much anywhere! Or go kayaking or paddle boarding through mangroves and rivers. Go fishing and cook your fresh catch for dinner to teach your child about the integrity in hunting for your food because, after all, fish don’t grow plastic-wrapped in grocery shops.
Go hiking Even if you live in the city, you will not run out of nearby mountains and trails to explore. If you are from Manila, the breathtaking mountain ranges and waterfalls of Tanay, Rizal is a mere two-hour drive away (that is without traffic, which is a different breed of "wildlife" all on its own). Pinoy Mountaineer is a great resource for tips on climbing different peaks around the Philippines (it also tells you difficulty levels), guide recommendations, and how to get there by car or public commute. Hiking may be more for older kids so for the young ones...
Visit the zoo or aquarium A zoo or aquarium is tricky because you are giving your money to establishments that may or may not be using it for the education and the preservation of the wild. Make sure you do your research first before paying a visit to any wildlife facility with your family. I recommend Avilon Zoo, which is under the Avilon Wildlife Conservation Foundation in Rodriguez, Rizal. It showcases a beautiful variety of wildlife while contributing to conservation and awareness in the community.
Instead of visiting an aquarium, you can volunteer at a marine wildlife sanctuary and interact with the awesome wildlife in their habitat. If you find yourself in Bacolod, visit Danjugan Sanctuary, a lagoon full of moray eels, a bat cave with sleeping python snakes, sea turtles nesting at their beaches at night, an eagle's nest, and baby sharks born in the thriving waters surrounding it.
Have a picnic in the middle of the busy city And see who joins you and your kids for lunch! Seek out parks and playgrounds and empty spaces and see if you can get acquainted with co-inhabitants and other city dwellers that you’ve never met or seen or imagined before! I love La Mesa Nature Reserve (located in Quirino Highway, Quezon City -- it is different from La Mesa Eco Park). It houses virgin forests right in the middle of city life, and you can take a stroll or go mountain biking.
Sit in your backyard! Play a game of hide-and-seek, spot the difference, “I spy…” or catch (maybe you will prefer count) the worms—the opportunities to discover and enjoy what is already there are endless! Choose your adventure and go wild. How can there be limitations if you are sitting right at home in your very own backyard? Teach your child not to be afraid of the silence and engage all senses to see that wild things may await anywhere.
Once you and your children have gotten used to the peaceful feeling of walking through native flora and fauna; hearing the constant singing of birds; and looking forward to that priceless view of the town you are visiting when you get to the top, our kids will thank us for giving them experience to see our blessedly big and bountiful everyday environment.
I leave you with a quote from book “The Sense of Wonder.” Rachel Carson writes, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
Celine Beatrice Fabie, author of “The Legend of Juan Pawikan and the 7,107 Islands,” started the online community Saving Juan Pawikan (tagline: “saving every Juan, one pawikan at a time”) to spread awareness on ocean conservation and love for the Philippine islands. She believes that children and grown-ups alike can learn a lot from saving sea turtles, which are endangered and can be found in the Philippines. Her most recent children’s story “Guita” won the Romeo Forbes’ Writing Competition and will be published by CANVAS.